Two weeks ago I was so proud of our National Park, our staff and our Members. Somebody up there was looking after us when our Park got, by rota, the hosting of the UK National Parks NATIONAL conference! And, because I am the Member Champion for ‘promoting understanding’, I got to work with our fab staff on the planning and organising.
Our biggest challenge was to show off our wonderful, splendid, amazing National Park without turning the two days into a ‘full on’ tourist experience. Let me explain. We had representatives (Chairs, Members and CEOs) from all over the UK’s 15 National Parks: four delegates per Park, plus speakers and civil servants and writers and partners– over 100 delegates in total – and we all wanted to learn and talk ‘National Parks’; that’s why we chose the theme ‘new horizons!’
So the way we did this was to offer 10 different all-day visits; each visit looked at the issues and a particular thing that happens in the Park, such as farms, quarrying, caving, cycling, and so on.
(Images clockwise from top left: on their various tours delegates walked to Smardale Gill Viaduct in the western extension area of the National Park, had a thrilling underground adventure, were shown around Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery by business owner Stu Taylor, and enjoyed a behind-the-scenes visit to Swinden Quarry, thanks to the conference’s headline partners, Tarmac)
I had the privilege of co-hosting the visit to Hawes, which was on the theme of community sustainability. Obviously, when we planned it, we expected former National Park Authority Member John Blackie to host it, but it turned out his legacy did him proud.
So we learnt about the community ownership and support of a petrol station, a post office, a library, a police station and a bus service. We looked at how the Wensleydale Creamery brings in the tourists and creates local employment – lots of it! We saw how, even with goodwill, not everything flies when we visited Gayle Mill. And we finished at our lovely Dales Countryside Museum to hear about how a small, remote community sustains an award-winning museum. We started and ended the day with a ride on the Settle-Carlisle railway – what was not to like.
(Images clockwise from top left: our tour to Hawes included a visit to Wensleydale Creamery, while other delegates summited Ingleborough, called in at the Kirkby Lonsdale Community Interest Company office, and enjoyed a sheep dog demo from Richard Fawcett)
Then it was back to the splendid Coniston Hotel for a great dinner, and the presentation of our Platinum Awards for both National Park and individual endeavours. We also had briefings from the English, Scottish and Welsh governments on day 1, and three major debates on day 3 – on the environment, health and well being, and engaging young people.
(Images clockwise from top left: our conference session speakers on day 3 were Tony Juniper (Chair, Natural England) on the natural environment, Dr William Bird on health and well-being, and Georgina Umney on engaging young people. Meanwhile, Xander Johnston received the New Horizons young person’s award (seen here with Authority Chairman Carl Lis) for his passionate championing of Cairngorms National Park’s biodiversity)
So a very full-on 48 hours (only 48? really?) and a gauntlet thrown down to Exmoor National Park Authority to whom the baton has been passed for 2021!